The artist viewing work by Keith Haring at the Brooklyn Museum
Welcome back to BSDA! Last fall you exhibited six portraits of unknown Civil War soldiers. This year your subjects are women. What's the story behind these 8 women?
The cornerstone of the series is a portrait of my wife Janet (below, right). It's based on a photograph I took a few weeks before we got married. The historical portraits were dominated by males and removed from my everyday life, this is an attempt to diversify and personalize the work. All eight are friends here in Charleston - some artists, some businesswomen, and some both.
My historical portraits dealt with anonymity and appropriation - I wanted to retain the mystery and stoicism of the old photographs but develop the compositions from the ground up.
How has your art practice evolved over the past year?
Having a studio at Redux Contemporary Art Center has been a big shift - when I get in the studio, there is minimal distraction and I focus completely on painting. At home, I could walk in the kitchen to get a snack and wind up playing with the dogs or watching TV. At Redux, it's just me, some music, and the work. It's also nice having other artists right around the corner, there’s a nice creative energy.
Photo by Jennifer Ervin Photography
In your previous show there was a lot of brown and blue-greens. In this show we see a lot of warmer colors. What compels you to use a certain palette? Is the choice specific to each work?
It might be seasonal - the temperature is just now dropping below 80 in Charleston. Also, I tend to go through phases - right now, I have these tacky fluorescent airbrush paints that I use for the underpaintings. The early stages look psychedelic and garish.
Teil (in progress)
I think women are probably more difficult portrait subjects than men because we can be very self-conscious about how we are portrayed. Did you try to anticipate your subjects' reactions to the work while you were painting them?
Consciously, I didn't think of it much but it's undeniable that these paintings are more delicate and nuanced than the male subjects. Men tend to have harsher features, which makes my job easier. Lulie and Hannah are ALWAYS smiling, so I was concerned there would be zero resemblance. It helps that several folks are artists - for instance, Karen is well-versed in using friends as portrait subjects - so she completely understands the dynamics at play.
Tell us about this recent painting (below). Is this the first piece you've created on this scale?
It's based on a photograph of my grandfather with his high school friends in this idyllic moment, just before World War II. Had the war never happened, I wouldn't exist because he would have married someone other than my grandmother (and vice versa). I've done other paintings at this scale but the group portrait was definitely a departure.
Who do you think you'll paint next?
Working on a portrait of Xin Lu, another Redux artist. These modern portraits are truer to my artistic voice - it feels like I am moving closer to an authentic personal narrative.